The machamba is for life: navigating a precarious labour market in rural Mozambique.
Southern Centre For Inequality Studies
There is significant debate about the class dynamics of agrarian change in Africa. In his seminal work, Maidens, Meal, and Money: Capitalism and the Domestic Community, Meillassoux (1981)  predicted the cannibalisation of the peasantry with the growing dominance of capitalist relations in the countryside. Yet, nearly half a century on, evidence points to the continued relevance of the peasantry as a social, economic, and political construct. Drawing on the case of Mozambique – where two thirds of the economically active population still identify as camponês or peasant – this paper explores the contradictory meanings of the peasantry under contemporary capitalism. The first section traces the making of the proletarian-peasant in Southern Africa, critically engaging Meillassoux’s seminal work on the ‘domestic community’. The second explores the differentiated ways in which camponeses improvise a livelihood through the vignettes of a nearly landless labourer, a petty commodity producer and an emerging capitalist farmer. The third unpacks the significance of the machamba or field in navigating labour insecurity, focusing on the following dimensions of meaning: sustenance, autonomy, and social recognition. Ultimately, the paper concludes, the peasantry embodies a contradictory set of meanings which reflect processes of commodity production rather than a precapitalist past. While the cultivation of the machamba offers an autonomous source of livelihood, it is characterised by drudgery and insecurity; while it provides a reservation wage, it subsidises a system of accumulation based on widespread precarity; while it represents a victory against land dispossession, it can further entrench neoliberalism. Nevertheless, land struggles continue to be the primary driver of contentious politics in Mozambique.
Castel-Branco, R. 2022. The machamba is for life: navigating a precarious labour market in rural Mozambique. Future of Work(ers) SCIS Working Paper Number 47, Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, University Of The Witwatersrand